Truck & SUV Tire Buying Guide

How to buy truck and SUV tires

Replacement light truck (LT) tires are expensive, so it pays to shop several tire stores and online sellers for a good deal.

Photo: Getty Images/SHAUNL

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Similar Projects

Introduction

If you’re not sure whether your vehicle has LT tires, just look for “LT” in the size mark on the tire. “LT” on the decal located in the driver’s door area or in the glove box will tell you whether it should have them.

In some cases, you can save money and even improve the ride quality by switching from an LT-rated tire to a passenger (P-Metric) tire. But don’t make that decision on your own—you need a tire expert to help you buy a replacement tire with the right size and load rating.

We contacted several tire experts to learn when it’s OK to deviate from the vehicle manufacturers’ LT tire recommendations. We also picked up the best tire-buying tips for truck and SUV owners and learned about the latest innovations in tread design and rubber composition. If you’re in the market for truck or SUV tires, this story is a must-read before you walk in the door of a local shop or begin searching online.

Buy tires for the harshest conditions

Avoid the trendy looks if you don’t need them

Know when to buy new tires

Any tire expert will tell you your truck or SUV tires need replacing once the wear bars are level with the tread. At that point, the tread is at the legal limit of 1/16 in. deep. But your tires’ traction and stopping ability decrease dramatically long before that point.

Tests conducted by Tirerack.com and one other consumer testing organization prove that trying to squeeze the last bit of life out of your tires simply isn’t worth it. Their stopping tests show that tires with a 1/8-in. tread depth (twice the legal limit) take 125 ft. more to stop on wet pavement than new tires. If you think that’s shocking, ponder this: The tires with 1/16-in. tread took 250 ft. more than new tires. The truck with the 1/16-in. tread was still traveling at 45 mph after the truck with 1/8-in. tread had come to a complete stop. (Check out the video.)

So even if your tire’s tread is above the wear bars, that doesn’t mean it’s safe. And regardless of the amount of remaining tread, you must replace your tires as soon as you detect cracks in the tread or sidewall areas.

What you get when you pay more

Some truck and SUV tires cost substantially more than others, and it’s reasonable to wonder what you get for the extra dough. The answer is—plenty! Premium tires are made with better and more expensive raw materials to improve traction, prolong tread life, increase durability and provide better handling and a smoother ride. Their tougher sidewalls prevent sidewall damage when driving over curbs and rocks.

Some premium designs include raised stone ejectors to prevent stones from embedding in the tire and causing flats. Other features include raised bars to eject mud, interlocking tread blocks to increase traction on dry pavement, serrated shoulders to enhance maneuverability in sand and snow, and threedimensional sipes to provide more biting edges to increase traction in snow.

Should you buy the extras?

Some tire shops sell lifetime rotation and balancing packages and an additional road hazard warranty. Buying both packages can add nearly $40 to the cost of each tire. But regular tire rotation and rebalancing are critical to squeezing the most life out of your tires. So we think it’s worth the money.

The decision to buy road hazard insurance depends on how and where you drive your truck. It really comes into play when you get tire punctures or damage outside the legal repair areas—for example, in the tire shoulder or sidewall. It’s not legal for repair shops to repair that type of damage, so you’re forced to buy a new tire.

Consider buying this insurance if you drive in construction zones, over curbs and rocks, or if you regularly drive on bad roads or often encounter deep potholes. That’s when road hazard insurance makes the most sense.

Making the switch to passenger tires

Buying new tires

Tire pressure facts

  • Tire pressure sensors usually set off the low-pressure light when the tire pressure falls by 25 percent. By then you’ve already started premature tire wear because of low inflation pressure.
  • Tires generate excess heat when they’re underinflated, and excess heat increases the risk of tire damage, especially in Sun Belt states during summer months.
  • Recent studies show that the tire pressure gauges at nearly 20 percent of all service stations overreport tire pressure on a 35-psi tire by at least 4 psi.
  • Less than half of all gas stations that provide compressed air hoses also include a pressure gauge.
  • The metal caps on tire pressure sensors are part of the antenna system and should never be replaced with plastic caps.
  • Tire shops are reporting an increase in the number of tire pressure sensor valve stems that break during inflation due to internal corrosion. Apparently the sensor manufacturers didn’t consider the long-term effects of using dissimilar metals in the valve stem construction.

Popular How-To Videos